Editorial

View from the Topside
A look at the collapse of the National Sprintcar League

   by Rick Benjamin
December 8, 2005

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The King of WoO, Steve Kinser, quit to go to the new series.  Now he's left with no place to race

Returning to the keyboard after several days on the road, wrapping up my final broadcast assignments in motorsports for 2005. I witnessed a couple of surprising developments up close these past few days, which suggest some significant new directions for our sport moving into 2006.

First, the brief split in the world of winged sprint car racing is over. There’s been much discussion here and elsewhere since September about the stillborn National Sprint Car League, which ostensibly had the backing of Richard and Kyle Petty, Tony Stewart, and other NASCAR names with interest in dirt track racing. The NSCL was targeting those disaffected by the operation of the World of Outlaws by DIRT Motorsports. (A disclaimer: DIRT employs me as play-by-play host of their WoO Late Model TV broadcasts on SPEED). The new League made quite an initial splash, signing deals with Steve and Kraig Kinser, Danny Lasoski, and several others of the top traveling sprint car teams. There was at least the suggestion that NASCAR had given the new group its tacit blessing, given the hosting of the initial NSCL news conference at Dover International Speedway on its fall Nextel Cup weekend.

I wrote at the time that this move was ill-advised and tough to understand. First, the piece of the motorsports business pie represented by the World of Outlaws is fairly small. The series runs nearly 100 events a year, all but a few at relatively small venues with 10,000 seats or less. The tour has not had live television (other than at Knoxville’s Nationals) since 2000, moving instead to the Outdoor Channel via tape-delay. The changes in Outlaws ownership and management since that time have been at least in part responsible for the tour’s lack of title sponsorship since Pennzoil left a few seasons back.

Cutting that piece of the action into two would logically create an even smaller revenue base for traveling winged sprint car teams. And it was hard to see what NASCAR might gain from having even a mild interest in a winged sprint car tour, given the recent emergence of USAC open wheel racing as a key NASCAR driver training ground and the move by International Speedway Corporation to try to help birth an updated Silver Crown series.

Finally, after just about 10 weeks, logic seems to have prevailed, and the laws of economics remain on the books. The NSCL’s booth at the amazing Performance Racing Industry trade show in Orlando last week was empty except for a Steve Kinser show car. Nearly as empty was the formerly-affiliated Richard Petty Driving Experience booth just across the same walkway. The black-draped (appropriate indeed) NSCL spot looked somewhat like an abandoned dirt track. All that was missing was grass growing though the bleachers and tumbleweed blowing down the empty backstretch. And the demise of the NSCL was the talk of this huge racer’s candy store. Sure enough, the doors to the Orlando Convention Center were barely locked when an official statement indicated the League was “suspending operations”…operations which it had never really begun.

No TV, no race dates, no sponsor. Those three hurdles are big ones to jump, and without the ability to overcome those issues, no new national racing series has a real shot at success.

The USAC Silver Crown saga was probably the second most-discussed topic at the show, and is at least peripherally related to the NSCL’s issues. Given the above-referenced difficulties in launching a new national tour, it’s no surprise that USAC and ISC have had problems convincing car owners to get on board with the new superspeedway Silver Crown race car. Even though USAC has moved to make virtually all components interchangeable between the existing cars and the new chassis, it appears only about six or seven of the new machines have been bought. That slim number would suggest that when the Copper Classic weekend fires up at Phoenix in late January, the existing cars may well be “invited” to enter.

Champ Car, meantime, and the new Atlantic series, continue to attract new young drivers and new interest from potential car owners. That’s a formula that appears to be a winning one, and should provide great action in the 2006 season
.

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